Using British Airways Avios Points for Amazing Reward Values

British Airways LogoWe’ve spoken and emailed with many people through our free travel rewards coaching program and so many are astounded when they hear the deals you can get by using British Airways Avios points on actual American Airlines and US Airways flights.  The same holds true for Alaska Airlines flights, but for simplicity we’ll focus on American Airlines and US Airways flights in this article.

This is one of the great secrets of the entire travel rewards concept, but it is hard to wrap your mind around if this is your first time hearing about it:  You can easily earn British Airways Avios points, which reside in your British Airways Executive Club account.  You can then log into your BA account to access your points and book flights on American Airlines and US Airways.

So you are actually flying on American Airlines or US Airways planes and the only thing related to British Airways at all was how you booked the ticket.

Two great things about this concept:

  1. British Airways points are available through the British Airways Visa Signature credit card, transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold and Chase Ink Plus all award UR points that you transfer to British Airways), and transfers from Amex Membership Rewards points.
  2. The British Airways frequent flyer award chart governs these redemptions, which means that shorter flights in actual distance cost dramatically less than a normal frequent flyer award flight using regular American Airlines miles.

Since #2 is essential, here’s the chart showing one-way award flights using British Airways Avios points:

British Airways Zone Chart

As you can see, any one-way flight under 650 miles in actual flying distance only costs 4,500 Avios points in economy, for a round-trip of only 9,000!  If you had regular American Airlines miles and wanted to book a flight using their frequent flyer miles, it would cost a full 25,000 round-trip in the US no matter the distance.

So you’re only paying about 1/3 of the miles and the BA Avios are easier to come by in the first place, so you’ll likely have a ton of them (we still have over 175,000 of them even after booking 5 flights).

Many people have bad things to say about the British Airways program because they hear about the “fuel surcharges” that BA passes along (can be over $500 per ticket). That is true on BA flights to Europe and the irony is that you never want to use BA Avios on actual British Airways flights (or American flights to Europe where they also pass along fuel surcharges.  The exceptions to European fuel surcharges are using Avios to book on US Airways, Aer Lingus or Air Berlin).

However, there are no fuel surcharges on American or US Airways flights within North America or between North America and Central America, South America or the Caribbean.  So a flight that’s under 650 miles in one-way distance like NY to Richmond, DC or Boston, or Miami to many places in the Caribbean, will only cost 9,000 Avios.

To put this in perspective, the British Airways Visa Signature Card offers a bonus of 50,000 Avios (when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months the account is open; $95 annual fee applies), which earns you enough points for five of these round-trip flights!

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As you can see on the above chart, even flights that are 651 to 1,151 miles in actual one-way distance are only 15,000 Avios round-trip.  That’s a full third of the way across the country, so you’re getting amazing value on any American or US Airways flight that is under 1,151 miles.

And even in the case of a coast-to-coast flight like New York to Los Angeles, you’re still only paying 25,000 BA Avios like you would on any standard US carrier.  Therefore if you can fly direct on American Airlines or US Airways within North America or between North America and Central America, South America or the Caribbean, you’re almost always going to be better off using British Airways Avios miles to book your flights if you have the opportunity.

Who Can Take Advantage of these Deals?

Just about everyone who lives near an airport that has any AA or US Airways flights.  Of course those who live near an American or US Airways hub will have the most flight options:

  • American Airlines Hubs:  JFK, LAX, Miami, DFW and Chicago
  • US Airways Hubs:  Charlotte, Philadelphia and Phoenix

But we find that if you’re flexible with your rewards redemptions and you want to make the best use of your points you can almost always find a way to maximize your value out of these Avios points.  This is true even if your local airport only has a few AA flight options.

A few examples:

  •  New York JFK to Bermuda for only 15,000 Avios round-trip (read about our trip)
  • New York to Orlando for 15,000 Avios round-trip
  • Dallas to Chicago for 15,000 Avios round-trip
  • New York to Toronto for 9,000 Avios round-trip
  • Dallas to Costa Rica for 20,000 Avios round-trip

One person we’re working with lives in DC and has family in Birmingham, Alabama.  This normally costs them 25,000 US Airways miles, but now only costs 9,000 Avios!

Another person we’re working with lives in Atlanta and wants to go to the Caribbean.  They can go round-trip to Nassau, Bahamas for only 18,000 Avios.  Because there aren’t direct flights from Atlanta to Nassau on American Airlines, this would be priced out in Avios by the segment.  It would cost 4,500 to go from Atlanta to Miami.  It would then cost 4,500 to go from Miami to Nassau for a total of 9,000 Avios one-way.  The return trip would be another 9,000 Avios for a total of 18,000 Avios round-trip.

As shown in the last example, these flights are priced by segment.  That’s why we say direct flights are best, but if you live a short distance from a major AA or US Airways hub, you can still get a lot of value out of these redemptions.

There are hundreds of routes where you can get these amazing values, so Avios should certainly be on your mind when you’re planning an awards strategy.  As we mentioned previously, they aren’t ideal for everyone in every situation, but many people can get a lot of value out of them if they are flexible.

This concept can get complicated, especially if you don’t have much time to do a lot of in-depth research.  If you want help planning a strategy, we offer our completely free travel rewards coaching program. You can sign up here if you’re interested.

How Do You Determine Avios Cost and Availability of Awards?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that these award redemptions are limited by the award space that American Airlines and US Airways have available.  You will not at all be penalized for using British Airways Avios as opposed to American Airlines or US Airways miles, but you do need to be aware that these award seats are limited by AA so you have to plan well in advance.

To determine the number of Avios necessary, I use this handy British Airways Avios Calculator at the official BA site.  You just type in where you’re leaving from and where you are going to and it will calculate the one-way price in Avios miles.

Another nice tool if the BA calculator is buggy is the Great Circle Mapper website.

How Do You Book American Flights Using Avios?

The next thing I do is search on the American Airlines website itself to see if they have any of their “Economy MileSAAver” award availability for 12,500 miles (one-way) for the routes and approximate dates in question.  If this “Economy MileSAAver” level award flights is available via AA then you can use your BA Avios to book these flights.

American Airlines MileSAAver picture

Then you just go to your BA Executive Club (BAEC) account and search for the flight using “Avios Only” and just book it directly on the BA site via your BAEC account.  When we booked our flights from RIC to LGA it cost 9,000 Avios and $5 in taxes per ticket and we were able to book in a matter of minutes.

If for whatever reason availability is showing up on AA’s site but not on your BAEC account, you can call the Executive Club 800 number to book over the phone.  This is usually necessary when you’re booking trips with multiple flight segments with their partner airlines (and is always necessary when booking Alaska Airlines and Aer Lingus flights with Avios), but I’ve found the BA customer service representatives to be quite helpful, so this isn’t a major issue.  You should request that they waive the telephone booking fee ($25) since you couldn’t book online due to their site limitations.

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Note:  As mentioned in the opening paragraph, we focused on American Airlines and US Airways flights throughout this article for the sake of simplicity, however, you can use the same concepts for Alaska Airlines flights which has many great deals from the west coast to Hawaii and a significant number of flights across the western half of the US.

British Airways also partners with Air Berlin and Aer Lingus and they do not charge fuel surcharges on those flights to Europe, so there is a lot of potential value in those redemptions as well.  They also have a number of other partners like Cathay Pacific, LAN, Iberia, TAM and Qantas where you can potentially redeem these points, as well as intra-Europe flights on British Airways itself where they don’t charge the massive fuel surcharges.

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Comments

  1. says

    See, this is the sort of thing that I just would never have figured out on my own. Thanks for sharing the hack!

    Do you think there’s a way to take advantage of this for a flight from Phx to somewhere in Central Europe? Or are there still better options (e.g. – United).

    • says

      Nice, I’m glad you liked the article!

      It is just such a distance from Phx to the central European destinations you’re looking to visit that I think you’ll still be better off with the United flights we discussed. Also, United has so many partners with availability that you’ll have more flight options, and they let you throw in those extra stopover flights for free. If you were going from let’s say Boston then I think it would be an easy choice to do the Aer Lingus flight, but considering the distance I’d probably just stick with United.

  2. Bonnie says

    Thanks for the hint to transfer points from other credit cards, specifically the Chase Sapphire card. I had 9,000 reward points left on this account, and was scheduled to close it (so I wouldn’t pay an annual fee on year 2). Thanks to your article, I just transferred the points to my British Airlines account, and will have a trip to Richmond for free!

    • says

      Great, I’m glad you caught this before you let those extremely valuable points go to waste. For everyone out there, NEVER let any Chase UR or Amex Membership Rewards go to waste if you close a card. It is extremely simple to just transfer them out before you close the card.

      Our top choices for Chase UR are: United, British Airways, Hyatt and Southwest. Pick which one you’ll be most likely to use and transfer them before you ever close a card!

  3. Brandi says

    So with options like this available, do you find the Freedom/CSP combo a good choice even for a couple who spend maybe $1100 a month?
    I got the Arrival and the CSP for money for a trip and am trying to decide if either of them are worth keeping with the annual fee. I am not interested in hotels or business/first class, or even cash back really. If I got cash back, I would just put it into a savings account for flying. It seems to me that if I want to go several places outside of the 48 states (which I do), then these miles would be more helpful that having cash saved up for travel. What are your thoughts?

    Also, I just found your site a few days ago, and I love it. I find it much more accessible and easy to comprehend compared to a lot of other finance blogs. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

    • says

      Hi Brandi,

      These are all great questions! Because the answers might differ based on your personal situation (your location, where precisely you want to travel, etc.), I can’t give you tons of detail and be close to accurate without speaking with you.

      Click on this link if you want to sign up for our completely free (no gimmicks) travel rewards coaching.

      I’ll personally email you to discuss and I’ve found that a 20-30 minute phone call is the absolute best way to discuss this. If you’re open to it, I’m available, so please sign up!

      Thank you for the kind words about the site! I really try to write the site with simplicity and common-sense in mind, so the fact that you find it ‘more accessible and easy to comprehend’ means a lot to me! :)

  4. Ron M. says

    Unfortunately, the BA website doesn’t show Alaska Airlines flights. I’m interested in Oakland – Pasco, for which Alaska always has a change of planes in Portland or Seattle. The great circle distance is under 650 miles. The actual flying distance is more than 650. Am I charged 4,500 Avios based on great circle; or 7,500 Avios for actual flown distance; or 9,000 (4,500 x 2) since there are two segments?

    Thank you.

    • says

      Hi Ron,

      It is unfortunate that the BA site doesn’t show Alaska availability. I’ve found that you can search for Alaska availability through American Airlines’ website; just search for the “MileSAAver” options and look for Alaska flights.

      BA does price it by segment and Oakland to Pasco is one of the instances where using Avios doesn’t work out so wonderfully. Even though the direct flight would be only 9,000 Avios RT, you have to pay for Oakland to Seattle and Seattle to Pasco, so it would actually be 24,000 Avios RT. Not so great…

  5. says

    Wow, this is awesome advice, Brad. New reader here… saw you mentioned on Mad Fientist’s Twitter stream and clicked over to check your site out.

    We’re taking a trip from the Bay Area to Maui in mid-April and tickets are nearly 3x the price for the same time last year (when my wife took her parents there) at around $600 each. We have more than 100k banked in BA miles and I haven’t found a way to use them… until now. Such timely advice because it looks like a lot of flights are on Alaska Air. Going to make a call into the BAEC later to see if we can snag some rewards flights!

    • says

      Very glad you came across the site and this article in particular with such perfect timing!! I know from our conversation over email that this wound up saving you nearly $2,000 in cash that you were about to spend. Remarkable that this one article could allow you to keep that loot in your bank account! :)

      • says

        Thanks again, Brad.

        Yup, I saved about $2,000 by buying 4 round trip tickets to Hawaii using my 100k AVIOS points (I ended up having to buy a 1 way ticket from PDX-OGG for $250). I’m ecstatic that I didn’t have to spend this money since flights from the Bay Area to Maui are about 2.5x what it cost last year (my wife took her parents there in 2013 for $258.51 pp). That’s extra money in our pocket that can go toward various activities to celebrate my parents’ 60th birthdays.

        • says

          That is just such fantastic news — I’m really happy you saved so much money! It is really remarkable to get four RT tickets to Hawaii for just 100k Avios — you’re very fortunate to be able to take advantage of that ‘sweet spot.’

          Have a blast celebrating their birthdays and definitely get back in touch when you get back…

  6. scott says

    Do you know if BA has made changes to this? I’m trying to book a flight from LAX to OGG(Maui) in Feb. American shows it as available with Economy MileSAAver, but BA shows it as unavailable. I tried Feb. 4 as an example, but it’s unavailable on BA for any date.

  7. scott says

    I figured out what was going on. You’re going to have do more work now. Even though AA is showing the green light for their MileSAAver awards it doesn’t mean that those flights are on AA. They could be on partner airlines which BA is not associated with. I searched a few flights to Hawaii and saw the MileSAAver flights were booked with Hawaiian Air. To book on AA required a higher award level. So I had to keep searching AA’s site until I found a date that flew on AA with MileSAAver, and then I was able to book it on BA.

  8. says

    Thanks for posting this Scott — I appreciate it. I try to be as broadly helpful as possible in my articles but unfortunately can’t address every single issue. I was going to reach out to you personally to discuss, but since you answered this so quickly I didn’t have time to!

    Yes, on AA.com they show partner airlines that you sometimes cannot use with Avios. Hawaiian Airlines would definitely be one of them. If you see AA, US Airways or Alaska Airlines you’re good to go!

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